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 Post subject: Sweeney Todd Week ~ Tidbit #2 ~ The String of Pearls
PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 11:44 am 
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In researching the origins of Sweeney Todd, we noticed that there was a certain category of literature (maybe that’s a stretch) that was popular to the times in which Pitt wrote his play—Penny Dreadfuls, the Newgate Calendar and the Newgate Novels. DITHOT told us about Penny Dreadfuls when we were discussing J.M. Barrie. Little did she know that someone referenced in her tidbit would be a major player in this discussion……

In August 2004 DITHOT writes:


Peter Haining has defined the struggle between good and evil as the common factor of all dreadfuls. “While many a reader might have observed a certain flexibility in his own moral code,” he writes, “in the heroes and heroines of the penny publications this was not only inexcusable, but also unthinkable”. This claim is basically accurate, although of course readers did not have a unified moral code with which they measured the heroines and heroes, leaving room for ambiguity. As with gothic works, when consuming dreadfuls, one often develops an attraction to or even compassion for the villain. The excitement of their adventures is utter escapism. Highwaymen are especially seductive, often using flattery, charm, and their dashing good looks as tools in crime. Conversely, the good guy on occasion is so flatly righteous that one suspects that readers might have had some difficulty in sympathizing with this unattainable ideal. The simple plot of good versus evil may have been a standard expectation but, as the allure of the criminals and their lifestyles suggests, other values and interests were also affirmed in the characters’ various moral standards, classes, genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities, and careers. http://johnnydepp-zone.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=2639

Peter Haining happens to be the author of Sweeney Todd: The Real Story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a book that was illusive to me during our first discussion of Sweeney. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Now it is available on Amazon used and going for anywhere from $49.99 to $74.07. You can also pre-order it. But there is no release date given. :banghead: Luckily Gilly, one of our Noodlemantras from down under, was able to locate a copy and give us the scoop (see Thursday’s tidbit).


Penny Parts

The penny part stories got underway in the 1830s, originally as a cheaper alternative for the working class adults, but by the 1850s the serial stories were aimed exclusively at teens. The stories themselves were reprints or sometimes rewrites of Gothic thrillers such as The Monk or The Castle of Otranto, as well as new stories about famous criminals. Some of the most famous of these penny part stories were The String of Pearls (which ostensibly introduced Sweeney Todd)
(More on The String of Pearls below), The Mysteries of London (inspired by the French serial, The Mysteries of Paris) and Varney the Vampire. Highwaymen were popular heroes. Black Bess or the Knight of the Road, outlining the largely imaginary exploits of real-life highwayman Dick Turpin , continued for 254 episodes. (Remember him from Good Omens?)

Working class boys who could not afford a penny a week often formed clubs that would share the cost, passing the flimsy booklets from reader to reader. Other enterprising youngsters would collect a number of consecutive parts, then rent the volume out to friends.


Penny Dreadfuls

In 1866, Boys of England was introduced as a new type of publication, an eight page magazine that featured serial stories as well as articles and shorts of interests. It was printed on the same cheap paper, though sporting a larger format than the penny parts.
Numerous competitors quickly followed, with such titles as Boy’s Leisure Hour, Boys Standard, Young Men of Great Britain, etc. As the price and quality of fiction was the same, these storypapers also fell under the general definition of Penny Dreadfuls.

American dime novels were edited and rewritten for an English audience. These appeared in booklet form, such as the Boy’s First Rate Pocket Library. Frank Reade, Buffalo Bill and Deadwood Dick were all popular with the Penny Dreadful audience.


The Newgate Calendar and Newgate Novels

The Reform Act of 1832, which was a milestone in the legislative history of England, led to considerable changes in the treatment of capital crime and the gradual decrease of public executions. The public’s growing consciousness of the inhumane nature of capital punishment and the turn towards reformatory measures had its roots in the eighteenth century and was described by Foucault (a 20th Century philosopher) as a general shift in attention from the body (and physical punishment) to the soul of the human being (and attempts to reverse the criminalization process by mental reform).

In the 1830s, this shift was reflected in a number of fictional works (Newgate novels) inspired by the ‘Newgate Calendar.’ a collection of historical trial reports and ‘dying speeches,’ which received its name from the notorious London prison.

The Newgate Calendar is a publication containing stories based on sensational crimes committed primarily during the eighteenth century. "Newgate" refers to Newgate Prison, with which the crimes are associated, while the word "calender," in this context, simply means a list or record. The first Newgate Calendar appeared in five volumes in 1773, and later Calendars appeared in 1824-26 and again in 1826. The popularity of the Calendars lead to other similar publications appearing during this time as well. Newgate Calendar stories are readily available in recently published collections.

Newgate Calendar stories appeared anonymously. They were short, lurid, snatches of entertainment, often accompanied by gruesome or sensational woodcuts. Their basic language, clear narrative structure, and brevity--combined with the calendar's low purchase price--meant that the growing working-class readership of the time found the stories more accessible than many other publications. Indeed, for early nineteenth-century British audiences, the main sources of crime information were not juridical records or official legal documents but inexpensive publications such as the Newgate Calendar and Sunday papers.

The main readership for lurid crime fiction was the working-class poor–the very people demarcated as "the criminal class" in works such as Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor (1851). An 1849 Punch article describes them as "the forlorn, the wretched outcasts of decent life." When W. Fraser Ray defined these readers as a class that was "the lowest in the social scale, as well as in mental capacity", he was transposing a class-biassed, pseudo-scientific terminology onto the issue of literary taste.

The attempts to stigmatize readers of trash journalism such as the Newgate Calendar stories as "low-brow" suggests that the critics might have felt anxiety that their own attraction to the writing exposed an inherent baseness in themselves. This interpretation is reinforced not only by the large circulation of the material, but also by the infiltration of the Newgate Calendar's style and themes into genres of writing that the mainstream was more willing to acknowledge reading. The stories influenced various popular forms of writing throughout the nineteenth century. Some of the genres that are indebted to the works of the Newgate Calendar include the gothic, the sensation novel, stories in the Penny Dreadful magazines, detective fiction, and of course the Newgate novel.

The authors of these so-called ‘Newgate novels,’ among whom there were William Harrison Ainsworth, Edward Bulwer Lytton and Charles Dickens, aimed at entertaining their readers with thrilling stories of sensational crimes and at the same time drew their attention to the social causes of crime, the psychology of the criminal (e.g. his notions of guilt), and other current issues, such as appropriate punishment and alternative treatments of criminals. While from an aesthetic point of view the ‘Newgate novels’ were regarded as pulp fiction by literary critics, their moral objectives, i.e. the exposure of the inhumanity of the old penal system and the call for penal reform, were unmistakably formulated in the prefaces to the various editions.

Nevertheless, if one believes the contemporary critics, the fictional works themselves failed to communicate this message. The majority of critics feared that the ‘Newgate novels’ evoked sympathy for criminals and even led innocent readers to imitate crime rather than warn them against it. According to the critics, this was due to the romance form into which the criminal subject matter was usually cast. The duality of protagonist (the criminal hero) and antagonist (the inhumane law/society), personifying ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ formed a crucial factor here, as this traditional (i.e., for readers easily recognizable) romance feature appealed to a large readership. Critics argued that this simplified representation of the relationship between the criminal and society provided readers with a distorted or even inverted system of moral norms. The potential of the Newgate romances to shape the readers’ world view in a period that saw decisive changes in penal law led to extensive critical discussions and negotiations of the normative system(s) represented in these works of fiction.


Thomas Peckett Prest and The String of Pearls

One of the more prolific writers of penny dreadfuls was Thomas Peckett Prest. A battery of writers churned out weekly stories and serials pandering to the latest scandal or news story for the London publisher Edward Lloyd. Many of the serials were subsequently bound into book form. Since almost all of these were published anonymously, other than by identifying the author as the writer of a previously popular serial, it is unlikely that Prest's total output will ever be known. This position is further complicated by the confusion between his work and that of James Malcolm Rymer. Many serials now attributed to Rymer were once believed to be the work of Prest, including the notorious Varney the Vampire. Most scholars now seem to accept that Rymer was the author, although it is entirely possible that Prest contributed some of the weekly episodes, since the book is uneven. Though the reattribution of Varney might weaken Prest's reputation, he was so prolific that it doesn't dent it much. He is still recognized as the author of the most notorious of all the penny dreadfuls, The String of Pearls, which gave us the legend of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber.

The story was not original with Prest. It had apparently been started by another of Lloyd's regular hacks, George Macfarren; but he had to stop writing because of cataracts. Prest took over and made the serial his own. The story is allegedly based on a real barber whose shop was in Fleet Street and who murdered a number of people. This narrative became linked with that of a real crime in Paris in 1800 where a man was convicted of cutting up his murder victims and serving them in meat pies. Prest is to be admired for his ability to continue the story through more than 90 weekly episodes. When the serial was running there was an outcry from the authorities who maintained it was encouraging the working-class to become cannibals. Like most such objections, it only increased interest in the story.

Prest was an able writer with a vivid imagination and though he was no literary master his writing was of an acceptable standard. He had served his writing apprenticeship by producing near-plagiarisms of Dickens's most popular books under the pseudonym of "Bos." These included such original titles as Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. (It is believed that the "Bos" plagiarisms were collaborative efforts between Prest and William Bayle Bernard and Morris Barnett; it is uncertain just how much Prest contributed to them.) Prest also had a firm grounding in gothic fiction. His earliest work for Lloyd had been in the production of a series of magazines which reprinted gothic fiction from the continent, or plagiarized anything readily available in England. The most notorious was The Calendar of Horrors where Prest freely adapted German stories to emphasize their most lurid and gruesome aspects. By the time Prest began writing his own stories he knew what the public liked best. More than any of his colleagues Prest concentrated on the most grotesque and terrifying aspects of life.

It was the success of one of these novels, Ela the Outcast, that encouraged Lloyd to issue original stories rather than reprints or plagiarisms. Ela is not a true gothic story, though it has all the elements of a blood-and-thunder sensational adventure and set the vogue for the penny dreadfuls. Its story-line became typical of most of Prest's work. Ela, the daughter of an aristocrat is seduced and abandoned by another nobleman, Wallingford, and becomes an outcast, surviving in the woods with the gypsies. She curses Wallingford, and though she later becomes reconciled to him her curse still takes effect. The book became a bestseller, causing Prest to churn out endless repetitions about foundling children, few showing much originality. The most gothic of these was Almira's Curse with its delightfully brooding Black Tower of Bransdorf.

Prest's background of plagiarism allowed him to rapidly adopt and adapt any popular work. With The Maniac Father he rewrote Father and Daughter (1801) by Amelia Opie, the story of a father who goes insane because of his daughter's loose conduct. This gave rise to another series of imitations. Of more interest was The Death Grasp, a psychological horror story with supernatural undertones. Adolphe de Fronville murders Eugene de Bonison and ever after is plagued by the dying man's curse. Throughout a life of murder and debauchery Fronville feels the cold, clammy grasp of Bonison's hand gripping his heart. The popularity of this work caused Prest to repeat it with The Skeleton Clutch, and this drove him further into the world of the feigned supernatural with The Death Ship and The Rivals, both stories of hauntings arising from frayed nerves and bad consciences. Finally the success of The String of Pearls made Prest seek out an equally nasty specimen of humankind and write the life of Sawney Bean the Scottish cannibal.



The following is an ad for a penny dreadful version of Sweeney Todd and an 1885 penny dreadful version of The String of Pearls, which we posted last year during our ST discussion. It has since been displayed in a recent video clip about the film on IESB.net. In that clip Sondheim refers to the Penny Dreadfuls, just prior to the display of the ad.

Sweeney Todd Featurette #3: http://www.iesb.net/index.php?option=com_seyret&Itemid=227&task=videodirectlink&id=202


This ad for the longer version of this story appeared in the Boy's Standard for Saturday, March 6, 1885.



Image


To read this version of the story (which appears to involve a dog :perplexed: ), The String of Pearls, click below!

http://www.geocities.com/justingilb/texts/ToddBoysStandardShort.htm


Sources:

Negotiating the Moral Value System: Crime Fiction as Part of the Public Discourse on Crime in a Period of Penal Reform by Kathrin Lang
http://www.ryerson.ca/~denisoff/newgate-defined.html
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers. St. James Press, 1998.
Wikipedia



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 4:35 pm 
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Wow! This is a very meaty tidbit, in more ways than one ~ thanks, Liz! I haven't read it all yet, but I'm eager to get to the ST version involving the dog. (That creature seems to be popping up everywhere on ONBC these days!) :hypnotic:



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 4:59 pm 
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Whoa! So much to learn and so much info.
I really had no idea there was so much histroy of this play.
I am enjoying all of these tidbits....



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:41 pm 
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johnnybloom wrote:
Whoa! So much to learn and so much info.
I really had no idea there was so much histroy of this play.
I am enjoying all of these tidbits....


Is the original discussion in the ONBC archives? Seems like it should be. I have never looked for anything there, it appears it could be complicated to find just one specific book discussion.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 8:03 pm 
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Yes, Nebraska, the discussion is in the Archives. It is not that hard to find the discussions if you know the dates (which you can find in the Why These Books? thread). The discussion begins around page 14, I believe.



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 10:22 pm 
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Liz wrote:
Yes, Nebraska, the discussion is in the Archives. It is not that hard to find the discussions if you know the dates (which you can find in the Why These Books? thread). The discussion begins around page 14, I believe.


Thanks for explaining that. :blush: I never put those two threads together, the Why These Books and the Archives..........it sounds so simple when you know how to do it.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 11:19 pm 
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You can also use the search function to narrow it down a bit. It depends on the word or words you search for though, sometime you get too many hits. Glad you all are enjoying the replay! :cool:



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 19, 2007 11:00 pm 
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When we did our Sweeney discussion, I received my copy of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by George Dibdin Pitt " a bit late so I was able to find "Peter Hainings: The Real Story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," a my local library. Good thing because at the prices Liz is quoting , I would never have purchased it.
Anyhow, I ended up really happy I found it and it was my favorite of the two books. It included a lot of history of the times, including the places around London where Sweeney's barber shop was supposed to have been. It also summarized a history of his childhood. There is information printed afterwards that makes Haines version more wishful than fact but I still found it a great read. It gave me a greater understanding of the times, including the Newgate prison and the Penny Dreadfuls.



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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2007 12:50 am 
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Funny that I was working on my tidbit for tomorrow about the time you posted this tonight and noticed that it was not only Gilly that read the book, but you, Gemini. You and Gilly were lucky to get your hands on it. It's interesting how the book is in such demand now. It was not going for these high prices when we originally discussed the story. :-O More on this subject tomorrow......



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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2007 5:57 am 
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Greetings all - I found this last night at Barnes & Noble:

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Edited by Robert L. Mack for Oxford University Press
http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/LiteratureEnglish/~~/dmlldz11c2EmY2k9OTc4MDE5OTU0MzQ0MQ==

It is 'The String of Pearls', with an introduction bringing us up to date with the film and
A Select Chronology
Map: Sweeney Todd's London
Explanatory Notes
Suggestions for Further Reading
and, of course, Johnny's picture on the cover.
"The present edition follows precisely that of the original 1846-47 text in Lloyd's 'The People's Periodical and Family Library', and has been taken from the copy currently in the British Library."

:thanks!: I'm enjoying this build up to the film's release here on Friday.



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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2007 9:00 am 
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Thanks for the information and the link, e_phemera. I think I saw this book at a bookstore over the weekend and was curious about it.



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